Who is the 'Trump of the Tropics?': All you need to know about Brazil's presidential frontrunner

  • Jair Bolsonaro is a pro-dictatorship former military officer who has been dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics" by the Brazilian media.
  • The 63-year-old populist ran up a huge lead in the first round of voting on Sunday, although he came up just short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off ballot later this month.
  • He will now face the left-wing Workers' Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, in the second round on October 28.
Brazil's right-wing presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL) Jair Bolsonaro gives his thumbs up after casting his vote at Villa Militar, during general elections, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 7, 2018. 
 FERNANDO SOUZA | AFP | Getty Images
Brazil's right-wing presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL) Jair Bolsonaro gives his thumbs up after casting his vote at Villa Militar, during general elections, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 7, 2018. 

Brazil's far-right presidential front-runner has promised not to become a "peace and love" candidate ahead of a second-round vote, as he continues his push to become the next commander-in-chief of Latin America's largest democracy.

Jair Bolsonaro — a pro-dictatorship former military officer who has been dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics" by the Brazilian media — ran up a huge lead in the first round of voting on Sunday, although he came up just short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off ballot later this month.

He will now face the left-wing Workers' Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, in the second round on October 28.

Bolsonaro addressed reporters shortly after beating his presidential rival by a margin of 17 percentage points and said he would not tone down his combative rhetoric ahead of the second-round vote.

"The good people of Brazil want to rid themselves of socialism, they don't want Venezuela's regime. They want a liberal economy and they want to defend family values."

"We don't want to be tomorrow what Venezuela is today," Bolsonaro said.

'Backlash' to corruption

The 63-year-old populist has won support among the Brazilian electorate by promising to jail corrupt lawmakers and make it easier for police to shoot drug traffickers.

It comes at a time when the South American country is still reeling from a massive corruption scandal, with a record number of Brazil's political representatives facing criminal cases.

The scandal has exacerbated widespread voter distrust, with less than three weeks to go until what many consider to be the most important presidential election in the country's history.

People queue to vote during general elections, in Vila Militar neighborhood, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 7, 2018. - Brazilians cast ballots Sunday in their most divisive presidential election in years, with Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician promising an iron-fisted crackdown on crime, the firm favorite in the first round.
MAURO PIMENTEL | AFP | Getty Images
People queue to vote during general elections, in Vila Militar neighborhood, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 7, 2018. - Brazilians cast ballots Sunday in their most divisive presidential election in years, with Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician promising an iron-fisted crackdown on crime, the firm favorite in the first round.

"The election of Bolsonaro and his movement as an outsider — even though he has been a politician for many years — is a backlash to those very cosy relationships between the state and business which had sort of existed on the left and the center-left," Arnab Das, global market strategist at Invesco, told CNBC's Street Signs on Monday.

Haddad, who only became the Workers' Party candidate less than a month before the election, is promising a return to the days when — under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's premiership — the country enjoyed eight years of economic boom from 2003 to 2011.

"The reason for all of this hope is that we have an outsider coming in and (while Bolsonaro) is saying a lot of extreme, polarizing and dangerous things, he is also sending the right messages as far as the market is concerned," Das said.

Not him

Bolsonaro, who has previously expressed his admiration for President Donald Trump, has angered many with misogynist and racist comments throughout the campaign.

Several women's groups held mass street protests against the far-right candidate ahead of the first round vote, with many campaigning under the slogan #EleNao — which translates to "Not Him."

"Comparisons with Donald Trump in the U.S. are superficial," Fiona Mackie, regional director for Latin America at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via email.

"Although both share some characteristics of populist leaders, the Brazilian context is very different. Its institutions are weaker, and its economy, far from booming, is in need of deep and politically challenging reforms as an immediate priority for the new administration," Mackie said.

Supporters 'rationalize' controversial comments

Brazil's benchmark Bovespa stock index closed more than 4.5 percent higher on Monday, following the news Bolsonaro had secured a comfortable lead in the first round of voting. Meanwhile, Brazil's real jumped 2 percent to hit its strongest level since August at 3.78 against the U.S. dollar.

Bolsonaro is seen as the more market-friendly candidate, in large part because of his decision to recruit Paulo Guedes — a University of Chicago-trained banker — as his economic advisor.

Investors are thought to be hopeful a Bolsonaro administration would tackle the country's growing fiscal deficit and privatize key companies.

"The team looks very liberal, that's why I think markets are responding. One of the questions is, will Bolsanaro let Guedes be Guedes?" Anthony Pereira, director of King's Brazil Institute at King's College London, told CNBC on Monday.

"He is tacking to the center and trying to sound more moderate … But a lot of people rationalize and say he didn't really mean these things," Pereira said.